Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.

AN: The premise for this story is a different Ichigo going through the events of the Bleach storyline. I aim to make him more cool headed, logical and just generally not a brash teen that rushes mindlessly into things. I would say that he would not become over powered, but then again, in a world where beings redefine landscapes with the swing of a sword, what is overpowered? Anyway, BAMF Ichigo

Ishida kept his gait swift but unhurried as he continued to make his way towards the second division. His reiatsu sensing ability was dialed up to the highest setting, thus affording him a perception that was borderline frightening in its ability to pick up on incoming Shinigami long before they crossed his path. The level of heightened awareness had allowed him to avoid at least three patrols so far, and though he did trust in the black cat's insurance, he wasn't quite ready to test his disguise yet.

Noticing the path of his thoughts, he quickly shook himself to keep from thinking about the black shihakusho currently adorning his slim figure, nor the decoy blade worn at his hip. It had taken him some time to learn how to walk naturally with the fake sword, but by now, he looked like just another Shinigami as he made his way towards his destination, with a stack of papers clutched in his hands.

This was, hands down, the craziest thing he had ever done and it was all Kurosaki's fault.

Honestly, there was just something about the orange haired teen that made Ishida forget about things like rationality and not partaking in actions that would inconvenience him, and instead made him think about things like companionship…friendship.

If he was pressed, he wouldn't be able to point out the exact quality that made following Ichigo feel as natural as breathing. Because for some reason, even if he had only known Kuchiki Rukia in passing, he felt as though she were someone he too wanted to protect, simply because she was someone important to Ichigo.

Ishida was no fool.

He recognized the charisma that was overflowing from the orange haired teen's pores, and yet, instead of thinking about how to keep himself from being influenced by it, he found himself thinking of ways to keep other people from trying to take advantage of his classmate's natural draw.

After all, he was far too cynical to believe so easily in the good of people even if the same could not be said for Kurosaki.

No matter what the reason might be, there was no denying in his mind that Kurosaki Ichigo had come to mean something to him – and in such a disturbingly short time too. Though he would not go so far as to call him friend, he would acknowledge that he would be…displeased…if anything were to happen to his rival.

Furthermore, he was reminded of his father's parting words after their impromptu training session, which was another thing on its own.

Eyes hidden behind his glasses, Ishida Ryūken had gazed at his son for a moment before releasing a barely heard sigh. Moving to leave the room, he had paused at the door, before saying

"You and I both know that this undertaking is foolish."

Uryū had stilled for a second with his hand outstretched to retrieve a glass of water. Then, turning to his departing father, he had focused on the older man's back before waiting for the end of his statement.

With his back to his son, Ryūken allowed a small but rueful smile to cross his lips as he finished,

"However, I have long since learnt the futility of trying to resist any orange haired person called Kurosaki."

And leaving his wide eyed son behind him, Ryūken had turned in for the night.

Uryū had pondered that statement through the night, before forcefully putting it from his mind as they had prepared to depart for Soul Society.

The implication that his father had known someone who had to have been Kurosaki's relative was a thought for another time; a time when he was not infiltrating a millennia-old institution.

Refocusing his attention on his surroundings, he picked up on the approach of a low levelled Shinigami still a few seconds away. Casting a glance around him, he noticed that he was currently walking in between two long buildings meaning that if he wanted to avoid the newcomer, he would have to utilize reiatsu.

However, before he could act, the person was upon him.

With a swish of cloth, the newcomer turned the corner and Uryū felt his breath hitch as his senses now picked up on the man's powerful reiatsu which was being firmly suppressed; at such proximity, his senses were able to glimpse the vast ocean of power hidden with an ironclad control.

Just as he was contemplating fleeing with as much dignity as he could, the man's gaze landed on him and lit up with delight just as he called out,

"Thank god I found somebody. I hope you aren't too busy right now because I need someone to help me with something."

As Uryū opened his mouth to protest the man's assumptions, a firm hand landed on his shoulder and began steering him back the way he had just come.

While Uryū was still trying to regain his equilibrium, the man leading him away allowed a small smirk to cross his face as his cloak fluttered in the wind.

The moment the pair turned the corner ahead of them, another figured entered the area they had just departed, Shinigami garb fluttering in the air as her cool gaze swept across the now empty pathway. Pausing for a moment as her senses reached out for the signature she had been tracking, she eventually spun with a scoff and vanished in a blur of white on black.

Chad kept a steady pace as he ran past bewildered Shinigami after bewildered Shinigami, causing people to jump out of his way as they saw the towering mountain of a man blur past them.

As he ran, he contemplated the plan that Yoruichi had shared with them, as well as the various additions made by both Uryū and Ichigo.

Ishida and Inoue were both meant to be the stealthiest of the group. Their role was to locate Rukia without being found out and inform the rest of the group of her location via their respective phones.

Ichigo and Chad, on the other hand, had more leeway in terms of how sneaky they had to be. Certainly, they were expected to avoid getting detected as much as they could, but both Yoruichi and Ichigo agreed that it wouldn't be a definite loss if they did eventually end up causing a raucous, thereby making it easier for Ishida and Inoue to slip by during the distraction. Still, both he and Ichigo were going to be searching for Rukia as well.

His best friend was currently making his way towards the Senzaikyū in case Rukia had already been transferred as Yoruichi had warned them she might have been. Chad himself was running towards the Sixth Division to check if Rukia was being kept there since it was apparently the division headed by her own brother.

As Chad ran, he mentally prepared himself for the days ahead. They had all been informed that Rukia's execution had been set for the first of August, meaning that they had less than ninety-six hours to find and rescue her.

Chad knew that this was going to be one of the most difficult things he had ever done, yet, he knew that he would never turn his back on Ichigo.

After all, he thought to himself, we promised to use our fists to defend whatever the other cherished most.

With that thought at the forefront of his mind, Chad, cut his speed as he took the next corner to keep from slipping.

It was a good thing he did.

With no time to avoid the incoming collision, he nevertheless tried his best to minimize the impact and he succeeded somewhat.

Stumbling as he fought to maintain his balance, he spoke up at the same time the other person did,

"Excuse me –"

"Watch it punk!"

Before the other person's words had even fully registered, Chad was already spinning, and from the corner of his narrowed eyes, he noticed that the other man was also doing the same thing.

Once again, in eerie synchronization, they spoke as one,

"Brazo Derecho Del Gigante"

"Crush, Gegetsuburi"

Ichigo's quick pace barely faltered as he felt his friend's reiatsu sky rocket in response to another very familiar reiatsu signature.

Gritting his teeth as he finally matched the second signature to the lieutenant who had tried to kill Chad, Ichigo kept his eyes forward as he continued his fast clip towards the Senzaikyū.

He trusted that Chad would be able to handle it.

And besides, he knew that with the surge in reiatsu, it wouldn't be long before an –

Right on cue, an alarm suddenly pierced the air as the Shinigami were notified of an intruder in the heart of Soul Society.

Noticing sudden flares of reiatsu coming from various parts of Seireitei, Ichigo narrowed his eyes briefly before kicking it into high gear and vanishing from sight, traveling at close to his max speed while making sure to keep a firm lid on his reiatsu – a difficult task to be sure.

Without warning, he was forced to suddenly duck into the narrow space between two buildings as he picked up on thundering footsteps coming his way.

Glancing out of his hiding place, Ichigo watched as what looked to be a group of black clad thugs blitzed passed his position. Counting down until he could no longer hear them, Ichigo prepared to move again just as his hearing picked up on another sound, causing him to freeze completely as he waited for it to repeat.


It was the tinkling of small bells.

Not even daring to breathe as the shadow of a giant fell across the mouth of the alley he was hiding in, Ichigo allowed himself to take in the newcomer's reiatsu and felt his eyebrows rising in incredulity.

For an instant, he worried that he had been discovered, before the figure harrumphed and then broke into a mad dash, leaving behind a brief flash of pink?

Letting loose a silently relieved sigh, Ichigo wasted no time in getting out of the area, making a mental note to become scarce the next time he heard the tinkling of bells.

Glancing around to orient himself, he continued on his trip towards the hill towering in the not too far distance.

Just as he made his way past one of the squad buildings he faintly heard a gasp before a voice cut into his focus,


Involuntarily sliding to a halt at the sheer power packed into that one word, Ichigo spun with a scowl before hastily biting off his retort as he came face to face with a captain.

Taking in the man's suddenly paling face and wide eyes, Ichigo spared a moment to put a name to his face as he spied the long white hair trailing down his back.

Quickly ducking his head into a bow, he forced his tone to be even while he asked,

"Is there something I can help you with, Ukitake-taichō?"

Snapping out of his shock at the supposed sight of his dead lieutenant, Jūshirō regained his senses enough to notice the difference in appearance between the brown haired boy before him and his deceased second in command.

Taking in a fortifying breath, he allowed a small and sad smile to cross his face as he replied,

"Sorry, it was my mistake; I thought you were someone else. But still, I am surprised because I didn't know that there was another Shiba in the Gotei 13."

It was only a combination of Ichigo's poker face and Ukitake's distraction that kept Ichigo from being found out on the spot.

Just as he opened his mouth to excuse himself, he heard a voice coming from behind him, causing him to flinch in shock since he hadn't sensed anyone.

Almost afraid to turn around, he slowly spun and mentally began cursing as he came face to face with another captain.

To make matters worse, the man was not alone.

With an embarrassed flush to his cheeks, Ishida Uryū kept trying to get out from under the man's arm, all to no avail.

Carefully hiding his amusement from view at the new turn of events, Kyōraku spoke up, garnering his friend's attention,

"Yo, Jūshirō, how's it going?"

At the sound of his longtime friend's voice, Jūshirō snapped out of his melancholic thoughts and refocused on the here and now.

Blinking in fond exasperation as he processed the sight before him, he prepared to intervene to spare the bespectacled brunette further embarrassment at the hands of his best friend.

However, just as he was about to speak, two simultaneous beeps pierced the air, causing everyone present to still in surprise.

With a muffled curse, Ichigo fumbled his phone from the folds of his clothes and cast a quick glance at the message he had just received.

Even as he felt his eye brows rising in surprise, his quick mind was already thinking up ways to extract Ishida and himself from their current situation.

He need not have bothered.

Suddenly letting go of his unwilling passenger, Kyōraku casually moved to join his fellow captain, acting oblivious to the slight tension that seeped into Ichigo's frame as he walked passed him.

Turning a grateful smile onto Ishida, he spoke up in his customary lazy drawl,

"Thank you young lad, you saved me a lot of trouble earlier."

Forcibly regaining his equilibrium, Ishida readjusted his skewed glasses as a delaying tactic to let him find his footing.

Speaking up in amusement, Jūshirō asked,

"Kyōraku, were you running from Nanao-chan again?"

With a slightly embarrassed chuckle, Kyōraku rubbed the back of his head while carefully avoiding meeting his friend's eyes.

Shaking his head at the other man's antics, Jūshirō turned back to the two teens and opened his mouth to speak, when he was once more interrupted by the arrival of another newcomer.

Stepping smoothly out of the wall closest to the group, Kurotsuchi Mayuri surveyed the suddenly quiet collection of people with his frighteningly intelligent eyes.

As soon as he noticed that his quarry was not in immediate sight, he scoffed in disdain and turned to search in another sector.

However, Jūshirō decided to question the mad captain before he was able to leave,

"Is there something you needed, Kurotsuchi-taichō?"

Pausing with his back to them, Mayuri tilted his head enough to see the group out of the corner of his eye, before responding disdainfully,

"Nothing which concerns you, Ukitake-taichō; I merely thought I had sensed another Quincy which I could dissect."

And with those parting words, Mayuri stepped back into the wall, unknowingly leaving chaos in his wake.

The instant Ichigo had heard the freaky looking man's last words, his body had sprung into motion long before his brain had fully caught up with him.

The two captains present twitched in surprise as Ichigo suddenly appeared beside Ishida with a hand clamped firmly on his left hand, keeping him from raising it. Furthermore, Ichigo had flooded the area with a small portion of his reiatsu just in time to cover the spike of reiatsu Ishida had unconsciously released as his killing intent had exploded from him.

Meeting the carefully blank gaze of his classmate, Ichigo willed Ishida to calm himself down lest he do something he would come to regret.

Ishida felt like he was drowning in a vast sea of hatred.

That man…that Monster…how dare he…how dare he…how DARE he

He couldn't breathe; something was constricting his lungs, an iron band of such black rage that even his heart was not beating.

His world had narrowed down to a single image – an archer's target.

He was in the zone and he would not –

Then suddenly, he was blinking his dry eyes as his vision cleared to reveal worried and compassionate brown eyes staring back at him.

It took even his quick mind a few seconds to grasp what had just happened before he forced himself to calm down; forced his anger to cool into something cold and deadly.

Allowing Ichigo to see the promise of a vengeance that would not be denied in his eyes, Ishida, finally allowed all the tension to drain out of his body and his reiatsu, leaving the area once more undisturbed as it had been mere moments before Kurotsuchi's appearance.

Kyōraku shared a loaded glance with his lifelong friend, before turning his ancient gaze onto the two teens who were holding themselves very still as they too looked back at the two captains.

Noticing how tense the two young men were, Kyōraku considered what he was about to do, and in a bid to make up his mind, met Ichigo's steady gaze.

Ah, he thought to himself, so it's like that.

Calmly turning his back on the two boys, he slung an arm across Jūshirō's shoulders and began to lead his compliant friend away from the area.

Just as they were about to turn the corner, and without turning nor stopping, he raised his free arm and waved the two teens away,

"I believe you two have something you have to get back to doing."

Leaving the speechless duo behind, the two captains continued out of sight, where they shared a look of silent communication before vanishing without so much as a telltale flicker.

They too had something they needed to see to.

Pausing after the abrupt departure of the two captains, Ichigo released the breath he had been holding and spent a second to thank whoever had been listening for that near miss.

Finally turning back to his companion, he moved to speak but one look at the cold and focused eyes before him dissuaded him from his intended action.

Sighing once more, he finally said,

"That was Inoue; Rukia is not in the second division so we can strike that off the list. Come on Ishida, let's leave before anyone comes to investigate the area."

Jerkily nodding his head at the orange haired substitute's words, Ishida turned around and began making his way towards the hill towering in the distance, and wordlessly, Ichigo switched targets and took off towards the sixth division.

He would allow his new friend the space he wanted, for now.

Suí-Fēng had surged to her feet the moment her honed senses had registered the familiar hollow tinted surge of reiatsu. By the time she had felt her lieutenants own reiatsu rising in response, she was already half way to the scene, moving so fast that her feet actually didn't even have time to touch the roofs of the various buildings she was leaping over.

However, she ground to a sudden halt once a thought occurred to her.

If the dark skinned boy was here, then…

Immediately, she spun to face the way she had come and flung her senses as far as they could go, causing quite a few people to twitch at the phantom sensation of having a viper gaze at them from the shadows.

She strained her senses for the tiniest blimp until with a startle, she picked up on a faint surge in familiar reiatsu which brought to mind unyielding steel forged in the fires of countless battles.

In her haste to apprehend the brat who had challenged her, she shattered the roofing tiles she was standing on as she pushed off with her powerful feet.

Suí-Fēng moved so fast that she was invisible to almost every eye in the vicinity; all except for the feline eyes carefully tracking her blurred movement.

Landing without so much as a sound, Suí-Fēng glanced around the deserted area before picking up on a faint trail to follow. She drew up a mental map of Seireitei and the moment she realized where the trail was headed, she was off like a shot, unerringly moving towards the Sixth Division.

Ichigo froze with apprehension as his senses registered a rapidly approaching familiar reiatsu signature.

With something bordering on panic, he frantically searched for a place to hide himself, before a nudge from Zangetsu had him stealthily scaling the high walls beside him and dropping down into a well-kept yard.

Without a second to waste, Ichigo flattened himself to the wall and together with Zangetsu, abruptly cut off his reiatsu from all possible sensors.

In the silence, he easily picked up on the swish of fabric as his pursuer came to a halt on the other side of the wall.

Ichigo could easily picture in his mind's eye, a familiar hawk-like gaze scrutinizing the now deserted place in search of prey.

If he was not in a hurry to find Rukia, he would have actually moved to engage the smaller captain, but as things stood, it was a distraction he couldn't entertain.

Just as it seemed that she would discover his hiding place, the sudden sound of a cat meowing had the captain spinning quickly and taking off after what must have been a distraction provided by Yoruichi.

Once Ichigo was certain that she had completely left the area, he allowed himself to relax faintly.

It was much too soon.

A cultured and even voice spoke out from close to him, startling him from his resting state,

"Who are you?"

Forcing himself to turn slowly, Ichigo erupted into a mental diatribe as he came face to face with the captain of the Sixth Division, Kuchiki Byakuya.

Taking in the man's frosty eyes and too still posture, Ichigo knew that he was seconds away from getting skewered by said captain, and so, in a bid to avoid death by impalement, he opened his mouth to speak, when he was once more interrupted, making his situation far worse,

"There you are."

The softly spoken words, coming from the top of the wall against his back, had Ichigo paling in horror as another person soundlessly dropped to the floor beside him.

Smirking to herself as she walked forward, Suí-Fēng noticed the tension in her quarry's frame, further confirming for her the identity of the brown haired boy next to her – disguise notwithstanding.

Turning to the Kuchiki head, she found herself making a snap moment's decision that left a part of her worried for her sanity.

"Sorry to bother you, Kuchiki-taichō, I'm afraid our stealth training exercise got out of hand."

Raising one perfectly plucked eyebrow at the smaller captain, Byakuya cast a contemplative gaze at the still frozen boy before him.

Taking in his features, he felt his eyes widening the tiniest bit, though it was too little for any of the other two to notice.

However, the slight narrowing of his eyes as suspicion began to cloud his mind had Suí-Fēng acting to prevent things from escalating further.

Abruptly gripping Ichigo's arm, and before either of the other two could react, she vanished leaving only a few words behind,

"If you don't mind, we will be getting back to it."

Blinking at the spot previously occupied by the duo, numerous thoughts ran across Byakuya's mind, until they all crystallized into one.

Spinning on his heels, he flickered out of view, unerringly headed towards the huge hill and the detainment facility lying in its shadow.

Inoue's back impacted the wall behind her as she moved away from the three men currently advancing on her.

For all her naivety, Inoue had learnt enough from both Tatsuki and Ichigo to know that when a group of men had that look in their eyes as they invited her out to play, she was not to take them up on their invite.

Now, what had started as poorly concealed harmless lust on the parts of the five men from the Eleventh Division, had resulted in two of them laid out unconscious on the floor and three more now fueled by enough anger to ignore the fact that they were about to assault a girl.

Raising her fists as her quick mind went over the various katas and techniques Tatsuki had taught her, Inoue prepared to defend herself once more, all the while thanking whoever would listen that the men were still underestimating her and had thus failed to draw their swords.

Just as one of the assailants was about to leap forward, a gentle voice had them all paling in fear when they turned to face the kindly smiling visage of the Fourth Division Captain,

"Oh my, what seems to be the problem here?"

Three simple minds fought to work through their paralyzing fear as their owner's tried to come up with an explanation for why three men were advancing on a single girl while two of them laid unconscious around them.

Gulping in increased terror as the captain's smile widened slightly, the men wasted no time in attempting to run.

However, as they spun around to take off in the other direction, they stumbled back with cries of fear when they once more found themselves face to face with the same captain they had just turned away from.

Their terror overwhelmed their systems and with simultaneous releases of air – which sounded suspiciously like relieved sighs – the three men dropped down in a dead faint.

Turning from the despicable men before her, Unohana Retsu fixed her gaze on the redhead next to her and promptly blinked in shock when she found the girl crouched down before one of the men she had knocked out, poking him in the cheeks with a concerned look on her face.

Inoue, noticing the scrutiny of the woman near her, turned and said,

"Umm…are they going to be alright? I think I hit them too hard."

Amazed at the words she was hearing, Retsu took another moment to observe the child before her, before finally realizing what it was that was setting off her instincts.

Smiling gently at the fussing girl, she said,

"I am sure they will be just fine; in my opinion, the members of the Eleventh Division can never be hit hard enough. Now child, come with me please, I believe I will need your help soon."

Blinking up at the woman, Inoue broke out into a cheerful smile and opened her mouth to give an affirmative when she remembered that she had something else to do.

Slumping in sadness once she realized that she would not be able to follow the kind woman, she said,

"I'm sorry, I really really really want to help you, but I already have something important to do."

Giving the girl an unreadable look, Retsu considered what was happening in soul society at the time, and then she looked into Inoue's eyes, gazed into her soul.

After a few seconds, she sighed to herself and thought,

Maybe I am getting soft in my old age.

Turning so that her back was to Inoue, Retsu said,

"I am sure, young lady, that your friends will be able to complete the task without you."

Freezing as she processed Unohana's words, Inoue bit her lip as she weighed her options. It never even crossed her mind to try to fight the Captain who obviously knew something of what they were up to, instead, she wondered how she was going to let Ichigo and the others know.

Finally arriving at a decision, she whipped out her phone and fired off a message to the others, before pocketing it and falling into place behind the female captain who had already started walking away.

She hoped that she had made the right decision. She recalled Yoruichi mentioning that the Fourth Division was the healing division and she knew that if she hung around with them then she should be able to find out where her friends were based on where various members of the Fourth were being dispatched to. Also, if it happened that any of the others got injured, she hoped that she would be able to help them escape from the Fourth Division since they would probably be kept under watch there.

Hearing the second set of footsteps trailing after her, Retsu smiled softly to herself and continued on her way back to her division.

Another wall crumbled under the onslaught of Chad's armored hand as Ōmaeda leapt aside from the blow at the last moment.

Turning swiftly and raising his hand, Chad blocked the spiked ball of his opponent's zanpakutō with his arm and pushed it aside, before closing with the other man and unleashing a furious hail of punches at him.

Ōmaeda swore as he was forced to dodge the rain of blows coming at him, while he fought to retract his weapon.

Finally getting tired of the attack, he dashed aside in a blur of shunpō before reappearing beside his foe already halfway through a roundhouse kick.

He wasn't even fazed when his high speed attack was dodged and instead flipped away from the retaliatory left hook aimed his way.

Landing in a crouch, he took a moment to catch his breath and reel in his weapon while Chad did the same.

Around the combatants, the unconscious bodies of the unseated Shinigami who had sought to interfere littered the ground.

Chad reached up with his left hand to wipe away a trickle of blood which was currently hampering his vision.

Unlike their first battle in the World of the Living, where both combatants had been limited in one form or another – Ōmaeda by his limiter seal, and Chad by his lack of training and the environment – here they were both able to cut loose.

Their battle had transformed the alley around them into something of a literal battlefield with the debris of numerous buildings littered all around them.

It was a testament of Chad's battle prowess that he was able to match the lieutenant now that the latter was off the limiter seal, a fact which visibly perplexed said lieutenant.

Sighing to himself as he rose back to his feet while nursing one of his cracked ribs, Ōmaeda wondered about the current situation.

He was just glad that unlike before, his captain wasn't there to watch him fight to a stalemate with the human boy, though she would no doubt hear about it later and give him grief for it.

Still, the fact remained that their battle had gone on long enough, and if it dragged on any further, it would be even more embarrassing for an officer of his caliber.

Taking a moment to consider what he was about to do, Ōmaeda gripped the handle of his released zanpakuto as he prepared his final gambit.

Chad, noticing the readiness of his opponent, also prepared his last assault, somehow instinctively knowing that the battle was just about to end.

Each of them had something of an ace up their sleeves, and for all that they had been fighting for a while now, each one was still underestimating the other.

Perhaps on Chad's part he could be forgiven for not realizing the significance of his opponent's position as one of the commanders of the Onmitsukidō.

As for Ōmaeda, he still believed that he was fighting someone who was just a human, and like much of soul society, he believed himself superior.

With simultaneous roars, they both charged at each other and struck out.

Ōmaeda swung his unsealed sword at Chad, aiming the spiked ball at the teen's head.

Chad, seeing the incoming attack raised his armored fist to deflect it, but moments before impact, Ōmaeda revealed his trump card.

With a quick flash of white, Ōmaeda quickly sealed his sword, returning it to its katana form, while Chad's armored fist was still raised in an overhead block – waiting for a weapon which was suddenly much shorter than expected – leaving his core exposed.

With a vicious grin, Ōmaeda thrust his blade forward, skewering Chad who had managed to shift enough to send the blade through his lung instead of through his heart.

However, his victory was cut short when Chad marshalled the last of his strength to reveal his own trump card.

Ōmaeda's eyes widened in disbelief and pain as Chad drove his unarmored left fist into Ōmaeda's gut with a telltale blue glow around the fist, pulverizing his organs and turning numerous ribs into mismatched puzzle pieces

As one, they both coughed up globs of blood and fell backwards, causing the sword to be pulled out of Chad's chest.

The sound of two bodies hitting the floor echoed in the now silent battlefield and as the dust settled, the unconscious forms of the two downed opponents were shown.

A few seconds later, a pair of sandaled feet touched down on the ground beside Chad, and their owner sighed before bending down to scoop him up in an effortless fireman's carry.

Ishida held his breath as he waited to see if he had been sported. Moments before, he had finally arrived at the long bridge leading to the detention facility where Rukia was most likely being kept when his honed senses had flared with the sudden arrival of another very powerful person.

Seeing that he was mere seconds away from being found, he had utilized the tiniest portion of reiatsu possible to duck behind one of the shadowed alcoves nearby, sparing a moment of gratitude for his skinny physique.

The steady footsteps halted in their approach for the duration of a breath, before their owner continued on once more.

Ishida felt his eyes widen as he spotted the white cloak denoting the person as a captain, and he promptly clamped down further on his reiatsu.

Kuchiki Byakuya continued on his way towards the Senzaikyū no longer hesitant now that he had sampled the reiatsu of the other person present.

As he neared the doorway into the cavernous building, his sharp gaze coolly rested on the second person present, tracing over the tattoos that marked his face as well as peaked out from the folds of his shihakusho.

Abarai Renji returned the stare coolly.

Ever since it had come out that Rukia had been forcibly retrieved from the human world, Renji had been frosty towards his captain because he believed that Byakuya had failed to ensure that it was their division which got to retrieve his childhood friend.

Deep down, Renji knew that he was being unreasonable, but in this matter, he was far too conflicted to be thinking clearly.

And having just spoken to Rukia and picked up on the peace and contentment she radiated whenever she spoke about her stay in the human world, Renji was in no position to be even falsely respectful to his captain.

Byakuya spent a few more seconds just reading his lieutenant's passable imitation of his own closed off face, before finally spinning with a swirl of his robes and making to move off.

Anger exploded like a bomb in the pit of the redhead's stomach and he snapped out in a tone that was bordering on insubordination,

"Didn't you come to see Ru – the prisoner…sir?"

Pausing in his steps, Byakuya merely turned his head enough to meet his subordinate's gaze, before he evenly replied,

"I merely sought to check that the prisoner was still secured."

And with Renji gaping in shock at his captain's words, Byakuya left the area, leaving one very surprised individual, and another stunned one.

After a few minutes, Renji gathered his wits about him, and with one last glance at the towering structure behind him, he vanished in a blur of speed.

Ishida counted to ten in his head after the reiatsu signature had disappeared from his senses before he finally left his hiding place and wasted no time in rushing towards the Senzaikyū.

The moment he stepped through the huge archway, he stumbled as his senses were violently shut down by the special stone used to construct the tower.

After spending a moment to gather his bearings and let his eyes adjust to the dark interior, Ishida's gaze landed on a wide-eyed Kuchiki Rukia and he allowed a pleased smirk to curl upon his lips.

Renji absently signed another sheet of paper, vaguely noting that it was a request for a division wide day off, before he once more refocused on the various muted discussions happening around him.

Given the relationship between their division's captain and the current hottest source of gossip, it was no wonder that even the enforced Kuchiki-etiquette which was a mark of their division was no match for the need to gossip about the recent happenings in soul society.

Renji's wandering mind abruptly zeroed in on the last parts of a conversation being held by two female officers leaving the vicinity,

"…was a tall dark skinned human boy who knew Rukia-sama."

Renji, being far from an idiot, quickly realized the significance of that particular boy being present; from what he had gleaned from Suí-Fēng's report and from talking to Rukia earlier, wherever the boy – Yasutora Sado – was, the orange haired teen would be.

The moment his mind made the connection, he was on his feet and halfway to the door with the intention of informing Rukia of the news – for reasons which he wasn't too sure of himself – when a cold tone had him hesitating for a moment wondering if he should act like he hadn't heard, before finally deciding to stop.

"Where do you think you are going, Abarai-fukutaichō?"

Turning slowly to face his Captain who had not paused in his task of signing off on various documents, Renji cleared his throat and prepared to respond, when Byakuya spoke up once more, cutting him off,

"You have already spent time you don't have doing meaningless things."

Clenching his fists as he deciphered the meaning behind his captain's words, Renji was peripherally aware that their interaction had caught the attention of most everyone else near them.

Steeling himself, Renji met his captain's eyes and let him see there all the things that he would never say.

And after a heart stopping moment when Renji feared that Byakuya would skewer him for his actions, Byakuya dropped his gaze back to his paperwork and said,

"Do as you will."

Surprised that his captain had not put up more of a fight, he cast a vaguely suspicious look at the top of the noble's head, before spinning once more and leaving the office at a clipped pace.

Ishida helped Rukia back to her feet after she collapsed the moment she had taken a step outside the Senzaikyū.

After a few steps, she regained enough of her equilibrium to continue on unaided.

Together, they hurried across the long bridge and immediately turned down a path that would lead them far away from the Senzaikyū.

Seconds after they were out of sight, Renji appeared on the bridge and began to walk towards the tower. However, his progress was halted by a Hell butterfly fluttering in front of his face.

After extending his finger and accepting the message, he cast a contemplative look at the doorway before shaking his head once more and turning away from the detention facility.

Rukia will still be there later, this lieutenant's meeting is more important right now, and besides, maybe I can learn more before I finally meet her.

As they continued heading towards the secret underground cave they had arrived in, Ishida whipped out his phone and fired off a message to the others, telling them that he had Rukia and they were on their way to the meeting spot.

Suí-Fēng had a frown on her face as she made her way towards the vast and secluded training grounds behind her division with her quarry in hand.

Even as she wondered at his docility in letting her drag him along, she also kept her guard up in case he attempted to attack her.

The moment they arrived, Suí-Fēng spared a fraction of second to consider running him through on the spot, before she released him a little forcefully and landed lightly on her feet.

Flipping upright, Ichigo landed in a crouch with his gaze fixed on the short captain opposite him.

Straightening to his full height, he waited for her to speak.

Suí-Fēng, after having an internal argument with herself concerning what she was doing and musing on the possibility that she was suffering from some mental disease, finally began to talk,

"Leaving aside how you restored your powers after I destroyed them, why did you come here? And don't tell me it was because of that foolish talk about protecting your friends."

Ichigo exhaled slowly and spent a few seconds organizing his thoughts, before responding,

"What do you want me to say, Captain? That I should have left my friend here to pay for something that wasn't her fault? That I should have abandoned someone who saved me and my family? That I should have ignored her sacrifice? I thought it was the duty of the Shinigami to maintain the balance of both worlds; to protect the innocent. Yet, there you stand, condemning someone who did all that was her duty to do."

Gritting her teeth at the gall being shown by the upstart before her, Suí-Fēng bit out,

"She broke the law; a law that's been in place for over a thousand years. There can be no compromise –"

With a furious slash of his hand, Ichigo cut her off, further incensing her,

"There's more to being a human being than simple rules! Rules are guidelines…suggestions for how we're to live. What we choose to do with them…how we choose to interpret them is the true test of life. And you have failed."

Eyes widening in rage, Suí-Fēng momentarily lost her cool and slammed the full force of her murderous reiatsu onto Ichigo, blanketing the entire area in a miasma of death.

Ichigo didn't even flinch as he bore the full brunt of her rage, having already felt a bloodlust greater than hers at both the hands of his own zanpakuto and the blond haired shopkeeper.

Abruptly, the storm of reiatsu ceased to be, leaving Suí-Fēng blank faced and eerily calm after the recent eruption.

Ichigo met her blank gaze and suddenly knew that there would be no getting to her as she was.

Without warning, he spun in place with his blade already materializing in his hand just in time to deflect a dagger like thrust aimed for his chest, while behind him, the afterimage of the short captain faded away.

Leaping back in an attempt to make some space, Ichigo bit back a curse as Suí-Fēng followed, refusing to allow him any breathing room.

However, it was a testament to the ruthlessness of Ichigo's teachers that he had already recovered from her sudden attack and was managing to keep off her storm of assaults, escaping the furious hail of attacks with only minor cuts to show for them.

Finally, he saw a disguised opening and took it.

Deliberately refusing to cover one of the sudden openings in his guard, Ichigo reinforced his side with reiatsu just as a powerful kick smashed into him, sending him flying away from the captain and giving him enough breathing room to finally meet her head to head.

Suí-Fēng, realizing what Ichigo had just done, rushed back in to re-engage, only to quickly back track as the black blade of Ichigo's sword almost took her head off.

Diving back in to the battle, Suí-Fēng thrust, parried, ducked, spun, sliced, deflected, pirouetted, and dodged as they danced all around the clearing, leaving utter destruction in their wake.

It was with a feeling of rising frustration that she realized that Ichigo was slowly beginning to match her attack for attack, and in some instances, even damage her without any harm to himself.

Wondering why she was getting slower – since it could be no other reason – Suí-Fēng forcibly disengaged and leapt straight back, only for her eyes to widen as she ducked to the side to avoid a fork of lightning streaking towards her face.

Regaining her feet from the sudden evasion, she only barely managed to raise her sword in time to block a slash from Ichigo, but before she could relax, she noticed the telltale red glow of a charged Kidō spell.

With an explosion of fire and smoke, Ichigo launched the ball of fire at point blank range, yet he never dropped his guard.

Spinning in place and ducking forward, he felt the cool touch of a sword along the back of his neck, before his left foot rose in an impressive back kick that managed to clip Suí-Fēng as she attempted to avoid it.

Spinning from the glancing blow, Suí-Fēng regained her feet to see Ichigo's blade swinging straight for her head.

Forcefully snapping backwards in a move that would have left contortionists wincing in sympathy, Suí-Fēng barely avoided the blow.

Finally managing to get away from Ichigo, she studied him with more caution in her eyes than she had ever given another opponent before.

However, before anything more could happen, Ichigo asked,

"Why don't you release your blade, Captain?"

Reflexively snapping back at him, Suí-Fēng replied,

"The release of a captain class zanpakuto inside Seireitei is against the …"

Trailing off at the smile slowly spreading across Ichigo's face, Suí-Fēng only had enough time for one thought before Ichigo spoke; that is a frightening expression for a young boy to have.

"…against the Law, Captain? Well too bad, because it's not against the Law for me. Go forth and tear the heavens asunder, Zangetsu!"

Rukia, along with almost every other Shinigami currently in Seireitei, whirled to a stop as a towering pillar of reiatsu reached towards the heavens. Even with her severely atrophied reiatsu senses, she was easily able to place the reiatsu signature, and she felt incredulity painting a mask of confusion on her face as she gauged a rough estimate of the reiatsu's potency.

Turning disbelieving eyes on her sable haired companion, she read the surprise in his own eyes, letting her know that this was not a development Ishida was privy to.

Snapping herself back to her senses, she immediately resumed her flight towards the secret underground entry point used by her friends in invading Soul Society.

The unseated officers present quaked in fear as the huge monstrosity of a man suddenly slid to a halt and turned to face the source of the potent reiatsu causing the air to hum with power.

With a maddened leer, Zaraki Kenpachi tossed his head back and roared with laughter soaking in bloodlust.

Perched, on his back, his ever present lieutenant squealed in childish glee as he suddenly took off in the direction of the disturbance.

In his office, the sleeping dragon of Soul Society picked up his cup of tea with a hand that seemed deceptively frail.

Though his eyes appeared closed, he perceived things better than any other mortal being living or dead.

Sipping placidly from his cup, he continued to observe the battle raging a few dozen miles behind his current location.

The various flickers and surges of reiatsu had his ever present companion humming in interest as they both gauged the strength of the youngling shaking up their domain…their kingdom.

Slowly, and barely visible through his thick beard, a sly smile curved upon his lips.

On either side of him, his two sons in all but blood exchanged wary looks as they wondered at what schemes their old master was cooking up.

Ichigo finally hauled himself to his feet with a rueful smile as he slowly made his way towards his prone opponent, letting loose a sigh of relief as he picked up her shallow breathing.

Pausing before her and meeting her barely open eyes, he carefully avoided looking at the numerous cuts currently littering her body, as well as the huge gash stretching from her right shoulder to her left hip – the evidence of the decisive blow in their match.

Making sure he had her attention, and ignoring his sluggishly bleeding wounds and painful bruises, he made one last effort to reach her,

"What does being a Shinigami mean to you? What does the Gotei 13 mean to you? I'm asking, what do you yourself think about who you are? Would you take a comrade's life only because you are ordered to? Are you that unquestioning? You see, that's no different than being a puppet; no different from being nonhuman."

Seeing the reluctant contemplation in his opponent's eyes, Ichigo sighed and turned his gaze up to the skies.

In a casual tone, he said,

"You know, you and I are not that different. A person picks up a sword when they have something to protect…be it their beliefs, their life, the Law, or a loved one. Their motives may differ, but it is still the same desire to protect. Just make sure that in your desire to protect the law, you don't forget to protect what the law was made to protect."

And with those final parting words, Ichigo blurred away in a flash step, unhindered by his numerous injuries.

Back at the clearing, Suí-Fēng's eyes widened as she understood what Ichigo was trying to tell her, and what Yoruichi, years ago had tried to explain to her.

With a sigh her eyes finally slipped closed as her numerous wounds took their toll.

Seconds later, a tree practically leapt across the clearing as unstoppable force met very moveable object.

Halting in his mad rush, Kenpachi gazed down at the bleeding and defeated form of the Second Division captain, before casting his gaze around the completely demolished clearing.

Frowning at having missed his prey, he turned to leave, before pausing in consideration.

With a grunt of dissatisfaction, he plucked Suí-Fēng from the crater in which she lay and resumed his search for his worthy adversary.

If he happened to conveniently lose hold of Suí-Fēng as he rushed passed the Fourth Division, well, no one said anything.

Glancing behind him, Ishida determined that they were far away enough to use reiatsu without being detected.

Sharing a look with Rukia had her instinctively reaching out to grasp his hand just as he prepared to utilize the Quincy brand of flash steps when a voice and accompanying surge of murderous reiatsu had him stumbling in uncharacteristic shock,

"Oh my, what do we have here?"

Almost immediately, the hand Ishida was holding transformed into a steel rod as tension flooded Rukia's body.

Hastily applying the brakes, Ishida surveyed the newcomer, cursing furiously once his eyes and senses confirmed the threat level of the teal haired man with the vulpine smile.

Ichimaru Gin carefully made sure that his face showed amusement and nothing else, though given how long he had been playing this game, it was not difficult to show only what he wanted to show.

Tilting his head and gazing out of his almost closed eyes, Gin felt his smile widen just a touch as his gaze settled on violet orbs widened in pure terror.

Taking a single step forward and ceasing the small output of reiatsu he had been putting out to get their attention, he couldn't keep in the low chuckle that escaped him when the two brunettes took a collective step back.

Sparing a moment to sigh in relief that he had managed to intercept them before they slipped from Seireitei, he decided to skip ahead to business.

Reaching to his side, he slowly drew out his short blade and opened his eyes just a tad, enough for Ishida to lunge for Rukia in an attempt to draw her away from him.

He was too slow.

Inoue split her attention between the glowing gold shield she was maintaining, and the head of brown hair bowed low in contemplation.

From her vantage point, she could tell that Ichigo was thinking heavy thoughts, and every time Tatsuki had done so, she had been loath to interrupt her.

Now, she wished that she could help in some way; help one of the few people who had always been there for her when she needed someone.

After getting the message from Ishida that Rukia had been safely retrieved, she had wasted no time in slipping away from the Fourth Division, where she had been getting very informative lessons about healing from the Captain herself.

Using her still improving reiatsu sensing abilities and periodic directions via their Spirit phones, she had tracked down Ichigo only to find him injured and bleeding in an alleyway.

Immediately, she had sprung into action, enveloping him in a healing dome and fixing his injuries as fast as she could.

Now, while she worked on healing his body, she found herself powerless to heal his non-physical wounds, leaving her sad and mildly frustrated at her perceived uselessness.

Noticing that she was closing up the last of his wounds, she ventured some form of comfort,

"Don't worry, Kurosaki-kun, Rukia-chan is safe now, so everything will be alright."

Ichigo, who until then had been trapped in an internal moral dilemma, snapped back into the present as Inoue's words penetrated the fog in his mind.

Yeah…yeah, what am I even thinking? I came here for one thing, and one thing only…

All of Ichigo's thoughts abruptly ceased as a blazing pillar of reiatsu shot into the air from the direction where Ishida and Rukia should have been heading.

A moment was all it took to confirm that the reiatsu currently surging at maximum output belonged to Ishida, and then another short moment was spent just marveling at the sheer power currently being displayed by his classmate – and though Ichigo knew that Ishida was far from a weakling, the amount of power he was feeling still caught him off guard.

However, before more could be said, the storm of reiatsu simply vanished.

There was no gradual lessening, nor prior warning, in the space of a breath, it went from being omnipresent to being nowhere at all.

Without conscious control, Ichigo felt his eyes widening in alarm as he furiously cast about for the tiniest indication that the conclusion he was coming to was false.

Behind him, he heard Inoue let loose a choked gasp, further cementing the horrible truth in his mind.

Ichigo felt something cold and black creeping up from the depths of his soul as he stopped hiding from the painful truth of what had just happened.

No matter how much he wanted to believe that Ishida had cut off the output of his reiatsu by himself, the memory of the brief spike of coldly murderous reiatsu just before Ishida's had vanished left him unable to deny that his friend was most likely dead.

That cold feeling of black rage crystalized into something lethal and deadly within his still heart, and with murder in his soul, he addressed Inoue, absently noticing her flinch at his dead tone, but unable to summon up a care for it,

"Inoue…please find Chad and heal him if you need to. He should be with Yoruichi at the meeting place."

Hesitating as her desire to be there for her friend warred with the instinctual drive to vacate the premises immediately, Inoue stuttered out,

"What…what will you be doing…Kurosaki-kun?"

Turning with a smile on his face which made Inoue even more fearful, but this time for him, he said,

"I'm going to get Rukia…and Uryū."

And before Inoue could cry out for him to stop, Ichigo was gone, taking with him the aura of cold rage that had begun to saturate the very air around him.

Ichigo arrived at the place where he had last sensed Ishida and had to grit his teeth as all his saw was a large puddle of blood and some blood splatter on the surrounding walls.

Spinning wildly as he frantically searched for clues, he suddenly stilled as his ears picked up on the sound of tinkling bells from just behind him.

The moment he turned and laid his eyes on the towering hulk of a man with his scarred visage, a high pressure wave of reiatsu crashed into him, causing his eyes to widen in incredulity at having not sensed the arrival of the captain.

With a bloodthirsty leer on his face, Zaraki Kenpachi said,

"I finally found you."

Eyes widening in rage as his mind made the connection between the killing intent of the man before him and his missing friend, Ichigo launched himself forward with a roar of rage and his sword already swinging for the brute's throat.

With an explosion of golden yellow reiatsu and an accompanying cackle of pure madness, Kenpachi leapt forward as well.

Kyōraku glanced up from the ground as the doors to the meeting hall slid open, and only centuries of experience kept his eyes from widening in alarm as the other captains broke out into muted exclamations of surprise at the vision before them.

Casually strolling into the meeting hall almost a full hour late, Ichimaru Gin casually ignored the glances sent his way.

After all, one could hardly blame them given his blood splattered garments and the still healing cut on his left cheek.

The sound of the Captain Commander's staff hitting the floor halted Gin's progress.

"Explain yourself Captain Ichimaru."

Smile widening in an attempt to come across as innocent – and achieving the exact opposite, Gin responded,

"My bad, Captain Commander, I was out for a walk and came across Kuchiki-san and a young man wearing glasses. I'm afraid that things got a little out of hand when I suggested that she return to her cell."

Silence greeted his explanation, though Gin was obviously unconcerned with it.

At length, Jūshirō sighed sadly to himself at the loss of life, before asking,

"And what did you do to Rukia?"

Opening his slitted eyes just a tad, Gin said,

"She's at the Fourth Division."

Nothing in Jūshirō's demeanor changed, but suddenly Gin felt a bead of sweat sliding down the back of his neck as he looked at the placid smile on the white haired captain's face.

"I see, I trust that she's fine then."

Swallowing, Gin could only nod his head once.

Once Jūshirō shifted his attention from him, he released a silent sigh of relief.

Slamming his cane into the ground once more to garner their attention, Yamamoto addressed his subordinates,

"It seems like one of the intruders has managed to put Captain Suí-Fēng in the Fourth Division."

Some of the captains scowled at the reminder that one of their own had been taken down by one of the human children.

Deciding to take the chance to satisfy his curiosity, Hitsugaya Tōshirō asked,

"Do we know how it happened; Captain Suí-Fēng is not one to be taken lightly after all."

"According to members of the Stealth Corps, she was defeated by a brown haired human male."

Nodding in gratitude to the Captain of the Seventh for his answer, Tōshirō subsided into silence.

Speaking up to his captains, Yamamoto scolded them saying,

"It is disgraceful that a couple of untested young'uns are making a fool out of the Gotei 13. We were already missing one captain since Aizen-taichō is yet to return from his training trip with the unseated members of his division, now we have lost another captain to the intruders while the prisoner almost escaped from Soul Society. This cannot be allowed to stand. Kuchiki-taichō and Hitsugaya-taichō, you two are to –"

Abruptly falling silent as everyone's attention was diverted from the aged leader, Yamamoto frowned unnoticeably as he picked up on a small spike in reiatsu.

Just as he put a name to the energy, the ground trembled as a shockwave of reiatsu swept across the entirety of the Seireitei, leaving numerous people frozen in shock.

In the windowless meeting room, the present captains knew that they did not have to see to know that there would be a torrent of golden yellow reiatsu reaching for the skies.

Grunting in displeasure at being interrupted, Yamamoto spoke only two words,


Immediately, Mayuri's device was in his hand with his fingers blurring over it while at the same time, a huge screen descended from the ceiling, allowing everyone there to watch the ongoing death match between their berserker captain and the human teenager currently causing them headaches.

Falling silent, they all listened and watched what they believed would be the end of the intruder menace.

Ichigo grit his teeth as his attacks were once more rebuffed by his opponent. His frustration only increased with the knowledge that even if his sword had slipped through, the best he would have been able to hope for would be a shallow cut on the other man's nigh impenetrable skin.

Twisting out of the way of a slash aimed his way, Ichigo didn't falter as another building became rubble behind him and instead lashed out with a kick which managed to open up some breathing room.

Just as he prepared to attempt a Kidō assault, his opponent spoke up in a gruff tone that sounded…disappointed,

"What the hell? Was I wrong? When you beat that short stuff I thought you'd able to gimme a good fight, but you can't even cut me."

Clenching his jaw at the words being spoken to him, Ichigo opened his mouth to snarl out a response when he was once more cut off,

"Right now, the only thing I'm getting from you is fear…you ain't ready to fight me yet; just wasting my time...It's pointless."

It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Ichigo's mind shut down.

With all the madness of just discovering a society in the afterlife and meeting Rukia, only to potentially lose her to a set of archaic rules, and then losing Ishida to one of the captains, Ichigo was at his limit. No matter how mature Ichigo acted at times, the fact remained that he was just a teenager and he ought not to be subjected to such situations. Even if he was somewhat equipped to handle a lot of things, there would still be places where he would stumble and fall…and this was one of them.

Ichigo watched through unseeing eyes as Kenpachi's sword arm relaxed and he prepared to turn away from him.

Suddenly, Ichigo blinked as he noticed that the captain was no longer moving, and that everything seemed to be whitewashed.

A flutter of a cloak in his peripheral vision was forewarning enough that he didn't startle when a classically attired hand dropped onto his shoulder.

Turning his head to the left, Ichigo gazed at the aristocratic features of his soul companion, whose piercing eyes were fixed on him, ever patient and calm.

For what felt like hours, the two stared at one another, not speaking and not even seeming to breathe, but within them, something more was happening.

Trying to explain what Ichigo was feeling would be impossible, but to get an idea, it went something like:

Useless…he's right…I'm useless…I couldn't save my mother…I couldn't save Uryū…I can't save Rukia…I can't save anyone…No Ichigo, you are not useless…remember, because of your strength, Grand Fisher is dead and your mother's soul now rests in peace. Because of your heart, you showed your classmate that he could live without the hate he had born for almost a decade, and you inspired him to fight for someone he would have killed just weeks before. And because you are my wielder, and you are not weak…you will save Kuchiki Rukia...

I…I…I am afraid

There is nothing wrong in feeling fear, the sin is only in letting it stop you…letting it keep you from moving forward… Abandon your fear Ichigo, you are not alone.

No words were exchanged between the two, but their souls – their very essences – communed with a method deeper and truer than words could match. The cores of who they were united as one, with one bringing doubts and fears to be allayed, and the other bringing comfort and strength in a moment of weakness.

Ichigo's consciousness returned to the real world and he felt Zangetsu returning to his inner world, but in the moment before they separated, he sensed something in Zangetsu's own emotions, but before he could comment on it, he got an impression telling him to wait until a later time.

Ichigo blinked.

Kenpachi paused on the verge of turning away as he felt a subtle change in the air around him.

Fixing his gaze on the kid he had been fighting – not that he would call that a fight – he watched as the boy seemed to find something interesting on the floor.

Scoffing at himself for daring to hope, he was about to fully leave when his opponent spoke up,

"We're not done."

Turning an incredulous look on Ichigo, Kenpachi said,

"The hell? Look kid, you got guts, but that alone ain't gonna cut it."

Seeing that the kid had no plans of backing down, Kenpachi frowned before coming to a decision.

He raised his sword and said,

"If you're that eager to die, fine. Even if you wasted my time, I'll be a sport and tell you my name; Zaraki Kenpachi, remember it."

He swung down.

A few scant inches from Ichigo's head, the descending blade met unyielding steel, and for the space of a breath, everything was still as the world paused in that moment.

Then three things happened at once.

A high pressure wave of violently displaced air originated from the meeting place of the blades and swept passed the combatants while Zaraki's sword was deflected up and to his right, opening him up to an attack.

Then Ichigo spoke casually,

"Kurosaki Ichigo, sorry to keep you waiting."

And finally, Kenpachi's chest erupted in a shower of blood as Zangetsu carved a trench from his waist straight up to his left shoulder.

Zaraki's eyes widened in surprise, before he threw back his head and roared with laughter.

He cast his gaze back down and met Ichigo's eyes which were now glowing a deceptively soft blue as Ichigo cast away all distractions from his mind and only focused on one thing: Cut

As one, the two leapt forward in a parody of the beginning of their fight, but this time, Ichigo was perfectly controlled as his sword sought out the gaps he could find in Kenpachi's guard, and wherever he could not find one, he made one.

Blood coated the ground around them as the two warring titans got swept up in their bloodlust, inflicting and ignoring wounds on each other.

Kenpachi, with noticeably less restraint, leapt back and with no hesitation, reached up to rip out the eye patch he was wearing.

Immediately, his already phenomenal reiatsu skyrocketed to unbelievable heights, and yet through the raging storm, Ichigo was the calm center.

With steady motions, he raised his blade to the sky and ratcheted up his own reiatsu until it was as high as it could go, before speaking in a soft voice that carried through the raging storm of energy,

"Go forth and tear the heavens asunder, Zangetsu"

The blazing yellow sun of Zaraki's energy gave way to the serene blue moon of Ichigo's power, while around them, the various buildings which were still standing blew away like sand castles before a tornado.

The skies darkened and the earth trembled as the two beacons of power clashed again and again.

All the unseated Shinigami within a couple of miles of the two promptly passed out from sheer reiatsu overload.

Locking eyes with his opponent and knowing that they were about to pull off their finishing moves, Ichigo readied himself and his blade began to hum as he pumped in more and more power into it, while maintaining a firm hold on it.

At an unseen signal, the two rushed towards each other and struck at the same time.

On the screen in the captains' meeting room, the video feed whited out as the surge of reiatsu temporarily overloaded the surveillance equipment. Once the image cleared, gasps of surprise echoed in the room as the spectators took in the prone and bleeding form of the Eleventh Division captain, and more importantly, the broken sword lying next to his unconscious body.

Ichigo, who was still standing, spent a few seconds just gazing at his downed foe, before he took a step forward and promptly collapsed on his face as his body just gave out.

Then without warning, the video feed flickered for a second and when it resolved itself, Ichigo was gone.

In his seat, Yamamoto Genryūsai Shigekuni carefully considered what he had just seen while around him, his captains attempted to digest the new happenings.

He pondered his plans and weighed his decisions, and once he arrived at a conclusion, he felt agreement from his soul companion.

The lad was not yet ready.

Standing on the tallest building in his realm, Zangetsu gazed unseeing into the vast distance where the clouds – which had gathered in the onset of Ishida's demise – remained, while his mind chewed over other things.

He was too lost in thought to notice his clenched fists.

He knew that Ichigo was just barely holding on by convincing himself that he could finally break down once they had successfully retrieved Rukia and escaped from soul Society; the young man was at his limit.

Still, despite his wielder's fragile state, Zangetsu was displeased at what he was seeing.

When Ichigo had been battling Suí-Fēng, Zangetsu's attention had been elsewhere leaving him only peripherally aware of what was happening. Yet he had not been concerned since he knew Ichigo would win that battle.

However, after seeing to the distraction, he had been able to focus completely on Ichigo's fight with Kenpachi, and as he replayed the battle in his mind, he began to unconsciously leak small amounts of reiatsu in an uncharacteristic loss of self-control.

As soon as he noticed what he was doing, he stopped and gazed at his hands with a frown on his face and one thought in his mind,

It is getting worse

Anything you think you know about what happened in this chapter, forget it…chances are you are wrong.

Please leave a comment if you can. Thank you for taking the time to read and review my story.